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WTN Interviews: How WARF is Reaching Out to Businesses About Technology Developed in Wisconsin

WTN Interview: Carl Gulbrandsen

Editor’s Note: This is the first of a multi-part interview that took place earlier this fall with Carl Gulbrandsen, managing director of the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF). Part one reveals Gulbrandsen’s perspective on the new WARF initiative called “What’s in it for Wisconsin Business.” This campaign, launched in October, is designed to make the Madison-based foundation more accessible to companies throughout the state, as well as to educate them about the wealth of home-grown product potential - in the form of patented UW discoveries - the foundation has available for licensing, The interview provides a background on how this initiative was conceived and how it is being implemented.

The next installments of the interview will cover topics such as what makes WARF unique, WARF’s investment and portfolio strategy, how WARF defends its patents as well as hot new companies and technologies emerging from University of Wisconsin- Madison. Stay tuned!

Wisconsin Technology Network: How did WARF’s initiative to put technology into the hands of Wisconsin business get started?

Carl Gulbrandsen: It grew out of two things. One, my service on the Wisconsin Technology Council, and second, I served on the Chancellor’s task force for university business relations. The task force held focus groups around the state and it became clear to me that once you get outside of Dane County, that WARF is not very well known to business leaders in Wisconsin. In Dane County we have a very positive image. In Milwaukee, they know us, but they don’t understand us and beyond that, in the rest of the state we are not that well known or people did not know how to access WARF or the University for help with their companies. This struck me as being something that we need to work on. Not because we are not very well known, but we are not doing our job if people that could use these technologies don’t know about what technologies we have developed and how to gain access to them.
From my work with the Wisconsin Technology Council, it always strikes me that every time I meet people from other parts of the state and I start talking about what is going on in technology and business in their area, that I find that there is more going on in Wisconsin than any of us know about. So, with those two data points I said, “We are probably overlooking a lot of good companies that could use technologies that we have.” I asked the question, “Why are we working so hard running around the country to license our technology portfolio, when we can look here first.” That’s what started this, and it evolved into WARF’s “What’s in it for Wisconsin Business” campaign.

WTN: What is the goal of this initiative?

CG: The initiative is to target Wisconsin businesses. We want to make sure that at the end of the day, companies in Wisconsin will use technology that has been developed in the state. We do not want Wisconsin businesses to say that they don’t know how to access these technologies. And they do not know who to call to find out what’s available.

I just want to make sure that Wisconsin businesses know that this there is an open door at WARF, and that there’s great technology here that’s not just about biotech, as there are all kinds of technology that we have access to. It bothers me when I hear of companies in the Eau Clare area saying that the University of Minnesota is more helpful to them than the University of Wisconsin-Madison. We need to change that. Not to denigrate the University of Minnesota at all. It’s a very good university, but we ought to be helping out the companies all around Wisconsin.

WTN: How do you locate the companies you want to target with this initiative?

CG: We want to track companies as they grow and make sure that our database is updated so that we know what the technologies they use and develop are. I’d like to put together a map of technology for Wisconsin so that you can grab it and see where technology is being developed. I’m the head of the technology committee for the Wisconsin Technology Council and one of first charges we have is to do an inventory of technology in Wisconsin so that we know what we have here in the state. Then, when we talk about building industry clusters, we can talk intelligently. For a while the inventory of technologies in Wisconsin arose just by a bunch of people sitting in a room saying, well, I think we got this and, you know, I think we got this technology. I’d like to know what we really have.

WTN: What would you like to see result from this campaign?

CG: I don’t want somebody to say that we didn’t offer businesses in the state technologies developed in Wisconsin, and we took them someplace else, and didn’t give Wisconsin businesses an opportunity. We want everybody to have an opportunity. It’s not saying that we’re necessarily giving a preference to Wisconsin. We just don’t want to overlook Wisconsin businesses.

Our attitude is that every license we do with a company brings that company closer to the University of Wisconsin-Madison. What we are doing with this Wisconsin initiative is locked right into what University of Wisconsin wants to do with its Office of Corporate Relations. They have a broader initiative. They have more things they want to provide than just technology to Wisconsin businesses. They want to be able to be a one-point or one-stop service for access for business to access the UW.

The Chancellor wants to make it easier for people access the services of the University. I’ve been here six years and it’s still hard for me to get my arms around this place. I can’t imagine if you aren’t part of it. It really is a complicated place. Just trying to identify who’s doing what at the University of Wisconsin-Madison is hard to do.

WTN: Who is responsible for implementing WARF’s business outreach program?

CG: Our licensing representative is Emily Bauer. She’s been here been on staff for a little over a year. Emily has a background in sales, information technology and journalism. She is relishing the opportunity to do this and to really get around and see Wisconsin businesses. But, it won’t be just Emily. She will be the point person, and is backed up by our licensing staff including Paul Radspinner, who is the licensing manager that handles our overall regional sales. Paul also manages our operation in San Diego.

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